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In today’s workplace, the ability to engage and guide others in collaborative work without relying on positional authority is a critical one for leaders to master.
How do you manage others in a world where collaboration and team work are key? While presenteeism still looms large and many managers still subscribe to the command and control model, many are asking not only whether these styles are conducive to the modern world, but how effective they are.
When it comes to management style, US author Stephen M. R. Covey says “genuine influence must be earned and won”. That is certainly the view of Jocelyn Davis, former head of research and development at global leadership development consultancy The Forum Corporation. In her forthcoming book The Art of Quiet Influence she says that “long-term professional and personal success is a matter of influence, not dominance”. That means getting things done without coercion through a process of engaging and guiding others to achieve a shared goal.
It’s an approach that implies a different form of less obvious, less intrusive leadership which is less about getting your way than about “co-creating a new way, a better way, our way” through “weaving a web of goodwill that benefits you along with everyone else”.
Easier said than done, you might say, but Davis spells out how to do so and why, with reference to several ancient Eastern sages – who believe that a leader’s job is “to channel the world’s natural flow” and understand that coercion is futile – and a host of modern-day influence experts.
Her book breaks down the stages in team formation and outlines what managers can do at each stage in the process to make it more effective.
She begins with participation, getting people on board. For that she outlines the need to be humane and demonstrate care for colleagues, for instance, by being courteous, available and showing interest in people’s lives outside work; to encourage genuine feedback, including criticism; to show appreciation and positivity, for instance, saying thank you frequently and genuinely, being good humoured and avoiding overdramatising problems; and to take time to develop a shared outlook.
Positivity cannot be imposed or managed or expected, says Davis. Neither can it be generated through performance metrics or ‘campfire songs’. “It is nourished, rather, by those who ply their craft with sharp intellect, deep satisfaction, and steadfast good cheer,” she writes. That includes listening to others, understanding what they want, what will move things forward and what will slow things down.
So how do you become a better listener? Davis cites one expert mentor who starts by asking managers what they need to do differently, what other people need to know about them so they can communicate better with them and what managers need to ask colleagues about their communication styles so they can work better together.
The next stage – quiet power – involves bringing adversaries on board by aligning interests rather than crushing them, backing those who take a lead, finding ways to be effective in the fact of aggression and managing your own emotions and behaviour.
Then comes progress and group cohesion which includes getting the day to day work done with persistence and focus. The typical manager response at this stage is either to move on to the next project or micromanage it, says Davis. Instead, she suggests it is important to stay involved, with an encouraging word here and there and a sense of calm persistence.
For Davis it is important to focus more on what she calls upstream factors rather than downstream results. That means putting people before pace and focusing more specifically on clarity [of direction], unity [or agreement on that direction and on working together to achieve it] and agility or adaptability to change.
She emphasise the need to stay involved when things get heated – to be present, but not to be afraid to walk away with dignity when attempts to influence are not working, for instance, when a powerful person resents you.
Davis says it is important to remember that people are at the centre of all processes and systems. She concludes: “It’s not the system, or the strategy, or the 19 steps in a training manual; it’s always the person. It’s the Confucian double helix of ren, humaneness, the twin strands of ‘I’m a human, you’re a human’ spiralling through our work lives and home lives with colleagues and family and friends. When we courageously grasp those strands and let them guide us through the system, we transcend the system. We become the influencers. We are the sages.”
*The Art of Quiet Influence by Jocelyn Davis is published by Nicholas Brearley Publishing at the end of May, price £14.99.